First Read, a continuing series of essays about classic and contemporary works of numismatic literature…
Review by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek …..
A new era in United States coinage dawned in 1971 with the launch of the Eisenhower dollar. It was the first dollar coin issued since the Peace dollar series ended in 1935. Unfortunately the large-size “Ike” dollars, which had the same diameter as the old-style cartwheels, were too big and heavy for most consumers. By September 1974, numismatic writer Clement F. Bailey had dubbed the Ike dollar a “successful failure”. And over the next five decades, the United States Mint issued four more dollar coin programs that also became “successful failures”.
Each one is chronicled in A Guide Book of Modern United States Dollars, by Q. David Bowers (Whitman, 2016).
Spurned by the American public, the five modern one-dollar coins eventually came to be loved by many collectors–including me. I first noticed them early in my collecting career as a 12-year-old in 1993. Large Ike dollars were pretty novel to a kid who had only ever seen cents, nickels, dimes, quarters and the occasional half dollar. Meanwhile, the saga of the beleaguered Susan B. Anthony dollar, whose misery ended during my birth year of 1981 following a three-year production stint, captivated my burgeoning interests as a young collector.
But as I grew older and became more involved in the hobby as a writer in my twenties, I learned I was far from the only person who enjoys collecting modern dollars.
In this book, Bowers offers his renowned perspective on the one-dollar coins of the last 50 years to all such collectors. He does so with the assistance of several notable modern coin experts, including R.W. Julian, David Lange, David McHenry, Tom DeLorey, Rob Ezerman, Bill Fivaz, Gerald Higgs, Andy Oskam, James Sego, Frank Van Valen, and CoinWeek’s own resident Eisenhower dollar enthusiast, Charles Morgan.
Before Modern Dollars, there were virtually no major publications dedicated to the small-size one-dollar coins that followed Ikes (previous works by John Wexler and Rob Ezerman, among others, had focused on Eisenhower dollars). In this regard, Modern Dollars serves as a comprehensive compendium that fills in critical information gaps.
Take, for example, the reason the U.S. Treasury Department called for a sudden order of 1999 Susan B. Anthony dollars. Until I read Modern Dollars, I believed–like perhaps most coin collectors–the widely purported account that government stockpiles of Susan B. Anthony dollars were running low as their use in vending machines and transit systems increased. That story is false, according to an unnamed “highly placed” Treasury official.
What we learn in Bowers’ book is that the Treasury feared a run on dollar coinage as Y2K fears grew – a believable scenario given the panic that computers would crash worldwide and that bank accounts would vanish, all thanks to a 1970s-era programming shortcut that erroneously interpreted the “00” at the end of the year 2000 as “1900”.
A Guide Book of Modern United States Dollar Coins does a great job of setting the scene for why the government was so determined to produce not one, not two, not even three but five separate dollar coin series over the course of 40 years. Providing more context on the matter is the book’s glancing history of silver dollars spanning back to the early Federal coinage era and the prominence of the Spanish American 8 Reales silver coin that served as America’s unofficial dollar coin for decades.
The book takes readers through basic strategies for collecting modern dollars and offers an enjoyable journey through American history during the years when the dollar coins were made. Each dollar coin series is profiled in its own chapter, with date-by-date entries, full-color photography and abundant insight on cherry-picking opportunities.
Enhancing Bowers’ text is plentiful commentary from the likes of Morgan, Sego, Ezerman and others who offer detailed insight on everything from strike quality and strike varieties to pricing history and relative availability in certain grades. Even serious Ike collectors should find few things wanting in the text, for it seems all the important die varieties and significant numismatic footnotes are here.
There are no price listings in the book for Ike dollars grading super-gem or higher – coins that register at MS-67 or PF-67. This, as Eisenhower aficionados will know, is likely due to the relative rarity of these coins (especially business strikes) in those grades, let alone MS-65 or MS-66, which are listed in the book. Additionally, the more commonly traded grade threshold of MS-63 is represented in Modern Dollars.
One piece of pricing information does leave me scratching my head, and that is the listed retail pricing of XF-40 cupro-nickel Ikes. Many, even the most common (such as the 1974-D), are listed at $2 in XF-40. While I’m aware circulated copper-nickel Ike dollars are trading for a slight premium these days, I’ve yet to see any sell for $2 in XF-40. Perhaps I need to do more shopping.
Moving on to the small dollars of the 1979-to-present era, there are few surprises when it comes to Susan B. Anthony dollar entries. The usual variety candidates are there, including the 1979-P Narrow and Wide Rims and 1981-S Type I and Type II proofs.
Even the few major varieties among the so-called “golden dollars” are well represented, too. These include the sought-after 2000 Cheerios Prototype Sacagawea dollar. If you don’t know what this is, you’ll need to read Modern Dollars – and if you do remember this coin, then, like me, you might remember how many boxes of the oat cereal you bought trying to find one. And if you, unlike me, happened to find one, you’ll be delighted to learn how much your Cheerios Sacagawea dollar is now worth (no spoilers here, but this one-dollar coin is valued at thousands of times over face value!).
Overall, there are relatively few detailed numismatic annotations in the year-to-year rundowns of each golden dollar coin. This is perhaps due to the fact that, really, there are aren’t many major attributed varieties among those coins as compared to the Ikes and Susie Bs.
If you’re looking for a scholarly 800-page tome with page upon page of tedious breakdown on obscure, scarcely collected dollar varieties or cross-sectioned analysis of the uneventful legislative hearings that birthed each of the modern dollar coin series, then this probably isn’t your book.
If, however, you’re looking for a substantial 350-page volume brimming with numismatic knowledge, little-known academic trivia on the various dollar coins, and fresh perspectives on this fascinating coinage–along with hundreds of color photos–then you’ll likely devour this book on the first read and refer back to it many times over in the future.
Personally, I find Modern Dollars a feast for the eyes. The plate coins are beautiful (I expect nothing less from a Whitman book), and the numerous yesteryear-hued images of striking ceremonies and rarely seen galvanos, models and sketch images are a joy to see. A vintage ephemera collector such as myself will get a kick out of multiple photographs of old dollar coin promotional materials. These include a 1971 Eisenhower 40 percent silver dollar order form and a circa 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar advertisement exuberantly filled with words such as “quick” and “easy”.
Modern Dollars is the reference guide I wish I had when I first dove into collecting Ikes and Susan B. Anthony dollars in the early 1990s, and it’s the book that reignites my passion for these gracefully aging coins today. There’s also something palpably democratic about this book. It’s easily approachable for the beginner, remarkably educational for the advanced collector and deeply satisfying for the masses in between. It’s exactly what I expect any good installment in the Whitman Official “Guide Book” series to be. Modern Dollars doesn’t disappointment, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar coin that any other Eisenhower, SBA or golden dollar enthusiast will agree.
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A Guide Book of Modern United States Dollar Coins
By Q. David Bowers
Foreword by Edmund Moy, 38th Director of the United States Mint
352 Pages, Whitman Publishing, LLC. Color, Softback. $19.95 MSRP.
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